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Friday, February 23, 2018

Chronic Drinking Linked to Dementia

A study of nearly one million adults in France found a link between chronic drinking and early-onset dementia.

Researchers, using data from the French National Hospital Discharge database, found that of the 57,000 cases of early-onset dementia (younger than 65), the majority (57%) were related to chronic heavy drinking. Alcohol use disorders were diagnosed in 16.5% of the men with dementia and 4% of the women with dementia — over twice as much as in those without dementia for both sexes, according to the study.

"Given the strength of the association, what is the most surprising to me is that alcohol use disorders had received so little interest in dementia research and public health policies," Dr. Michael Schwarzinger, a researcher at the Transitional Health Economics Network in Paris and a leading author of the study, told

According to the researchers, there are multiple ways heavy alcohol use can lead to dementia, including:
  • Ethanol and its byproduct acetaldehyde are known to have a toxic effect on the brain that can lead to long-term structural and functional brain damage.
  • Heavy alcohol use can lead to a condition called hepatic encephalopathy, characterized by a loss in brain function due to increases of ammonia in the blood caused by liver damage.
  • Heavy drinking often correlates with smoking habits and/or depression, also factors for dementia onset. 
People outside of France should take these findings seriously, too, Dr. Schwarzinger told “While the rate of alcohol use disorders is lower in the USA, it remains substantial enough to be considered a major risk factor for dementia onset."

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